Introduced as a late addition to the Thursday, Jan. 23 meeting of the Student Government Association’s (SGA) Student Senate was a new piece of legislation titled the Probation Act. Introduced by Senator Davonte Belle, the resolution, should it go into effect, recommends the placement of Student Body President Brady Nails and the entirety of his administration on probation until March 27, or until “deemed fit by the Student Senate,” according to the resolution.
The piece of legislation, which was not originally on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, was introduced and fast tracked at the meeting, resulting in the Senate voting 25 in favor, with one abstention, of the resolution after 10 minutes of discussion. Normally, the Senate will hear discussion on a piece of legislation and vote the following week. The motion to fast track the resolution skipped this discussion period and allowed voting to occur last week.
With the senators unanimously approving the act, Nails is left with five days from the day of the Senate’s vote to either veto the legislation or let it stand.
In the wake of last week’s meeting, many questions and concerns are left up in the air.
Production of the legislation
Before he was able to bring the resolution in front of the Senate, Belle took various steps to not only be sure that he was confirmed as a senator, but also to ensure the resolution encompassed everything he envisioned.
During the 2012-13 academic year, Belle served as a senator for SGA, but took a break from the Senate during the Fall 2013 semester in order to serve on Nails’ Executive Board.
Belle, who served as the Secretary for Internal Affairs last fall, resigned from the position via email to Nails on Tuesday, Jan. 14. Two days later at the Senate meeting on Jan. 16, Belle was confirmed in front of the Senate. His confirmation, according to Nails, raised concerns among the Executive Board.
“They asked questions to confirm that he was a valid candidate, and one of the questions, they said, ‘What would you like to do? What’s your plan?’ And he goes, ‘Well that’s confidential. You’ll find out soon.’ And then a week later this legislation was passed,” said Nails.
If it seems Belle stepped down from his position as Secretary for Internal Affairs specifically to propose this legislation, it is because, Belle says, that is exactly what he did.
“I wanted to get back in the Senate because I knew I was going to have that piece of legislation to go through,” said Belle. “If I hadn’t resigned I would have had to get somebody else to [propose the Probation Act].”
Belle met with countless professional members of the university community, he says, even meeting with the university’s lawyers to ensure that what he was hoping to do was possible.
“I talked to faculty members to make sure we were doing the right thing and I found out from the lawyer on campus of our university that we could actually do that,” said Belle.
The resolution itself, said Belle, was something he had been thinking about since the fall semester.
Probation Act’s scope
The legislation’s scope leaves some to be desired from everyone involved, including Belle. As written, the resolution would place the entirety of the Executive Cabinet on probation. This includes Nails, James Shaw, student body vice president, the class presidents, the chief of staff and each of the secretaries of the board, including the position previously held by Belle.
The resolution seeks to revoke Nails’ privileges as student body president, which include his presidential parking pass and use of the SGA iPad. Nails and the other members of the Executive Branch would also, according to the resolution, no longer receive their monthly stipends until the Student Senate feels the Cabinet is performing its duties. Nails would also be required to produce weekly reports to the Student Senate until Feb. 27.
Belle says the large scope of the resolution was necessary, despite some members affected by it not deserving to be placed on probation.
“To be honest I felt bad for James, because he actually does his part, but I didn’t want to just alienate anybody. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to encompass the whole administration,” said Belle. “With Conor Dugan and Loren Fouts [2012-13 student body president and vice president], it was a completely different student government. They were getting things done, interacting with the legislative branch. As far as this year, nothing has happened. Brady is pretty much kind of irrelevant, honestly, and he’s just been causing problems in student government, I think personally.”
Belle declined to comment on the specifics of the problems Nails was creating in SGA.
Nails says he believes both he and Chief of Staff Cameron Dawson are targeted by the resolution. If the Senate wishes to produce legislation with these consequences, Nails says it would benefit all parties involved to direct the piece directly at the two of them instead of the cabinet as a whole.
“The bigger thing is that it affects the class presidents, who would be put on this probationary status. The vice president is also put on this status. The legislation is written in a way so that it tries to affect everyone but in reality, it only mentions my chief of staff and myself. There are a lot of problems,” said Nails. “A big portion of it was, especially with my chief of staff, assumptions on what he’s doing. He has a lot of responsibilities. I think he has four or five committees that he sits on directly, in addition to ones that he puts people on.”
Nails feels that, given the way the resolution seems to be specifically geared at himself and Dawson, this legislation is the Senate’s way around having to impeach him. Belle, who says fellow senators and other members of the university community have asked him why he did not attempt to have Nails impeached instead of placed on probation, says the process of impeachment isn’t worth the reward.
“It requires 3,000 signatures from the student body to do that. I was just like, it’s not worth going through the trouble when he just has two months left in office,” said Belle.
Motivations for legislation
A majority of the reason behind the need for this legislation, says Belle, is the apparent inactivity of the executive branch, specifically inactivity on the part of Nails.
“The fact that the administration hasn’t been doing anything and hasn’t been meeting. Brady hasn’t been in his office at all since school started and nobody has heard from him. He doesn’t do anything,” said Belle.
In reference to portions of the resolution that reference Dawson, Belle says last fall when he served on the Executive Board, he wasn’t sure who the chief of staff was until the first email was sent to announce a cabinet meeting. Section 2-2.13 of the Executive Branch by-laws lays out the duties of the chief of staff, responsibilities which Belle says are not met.
In response to these criticisms, Nails says that he and Dawson, while working under what could be considered a role reversal, do not break any rules with how they chose to conduct business. Dawson, says Nails, does much of the behind-the-scenes administrative work while Nails says he takes on a more hands-on role.
Belle disagrees with Nails’ interpretation of their duties, and says that weekly Executive Board meetings are necessary. These weekly cabinet meetings, says Nails, seems to be the bulk of the issue.
“There have been things we haven’t done by the exact rules. The real issue comes down to weekly meetings. That’s the meat of it. And I was very upfront with my cabinet and I told them my expectations,” said Nails. “We wrote them down, and my first one was, ‘You guys are students and leaders all over campus. I’m not going to waste your time, and you’re not going to waste mine. We’re not going to have a board meeting if you guys send me your reports and there is nothing to talk about, I’m not going to have a 15 minute meeting.’ The rules of SGA are incredibly vague.”
The vague aspects of the rules, says Nails, create countless contradictions, which allow many of the points made in the resolution to be irrelevant in his opinion, including those referencing an Executive cabinet retreat, weekly meetings of the executive branch and publication of the meetings from the cabinet meetings on the SGA website.
Some points made in the resolution Nails admits he has not done, but says precedent from previous student body presidents makes him feel as if he is doing right by the cabinet.
“They wanted us to have a retreat. We were given $1,000 from the student funds to do so. I would have been the first student body president in three years to do a retreat. In the past people have done like an end of the year celebration,” said Nails. “I told my guys that I wasn’t going to waste the money like that, and that’s what I plan to tell the Senate on Thursday.”
The confusion created by the legislation, in Nails’ opinion, could have been cleared up if senators had come forward and spoken with members of the executive branch, or if Belle specifically had said something during the fall 2013 semester when he was on Nails’ cabinet.
“There were little things where, had they been given both sides, it would have had a different outcome. I think that’s why it passed through; people didn’t go that extra step,” said Nails. “The biggest surprise, and the biggest disappointment, was nobody came forward to discuss this. Nobody on the Senate, nobody in Judicial, not even Davonte, who then was a member of the Executive Board.”
Belle recognizes that Nails would tell a different story, but discredits this version of the goings-on in SGA.
“I mean I’m sure Brady gave you a whole other side of it, but to be honest all of us senators, we know how well last year went,” he said.
When the agenda for Thursday’s Senate meeting was emailed out to senators, as well as members of the UNC Charlotte community who are on the email list to regularly receive SGA documentation, the Probation Act was not on the docket.
Over the past two weeks, new policies were put in place for SGA to regulate some of the smaller details in the body. One such policy requires legislation to be discussed at the weekly meeting be submitted to Jason Hartsoe, president pro-tempore for SGA, by 5 p.m. the Wednesday before the meeting. Belle did not submit his resolution to Hartsoe until later Wednesday evening, yet was admitted to the agenda regardless.
“After much discussion that afternoon, we decided it needed to be submitted. We felt we needed to do something now,” said Hartsoe.
The resolution was added to the agenda and knowledge of the legislation’s existence was not made known to senators at the meeting until it was brought up. After Belle presented the legislation to the Senate, a brief discussion period was held. The legislation was then fast tracked and immediately voted on at the meeting, instead of leaving a week between the initial presentation of the resolution and the vote to allow senators to look over the piece.
“After it was read the first time, I believe the Senate believed that this legislation needed to be passed as soon as possible,” said Hartsoe.
Nails says the last minute inclusion of the legislation on the agenda, coupled with the motion to fast track the resolution, created a sense of confusion among the senators.
“I’ve talked to quite a few people who all said, ‘oh we didn’t realize what this actually meant.’ Legislation is usually sent out the day before so senators can look it over,” said Nails. “They didn’t follow this new policy and just tried to blindside people and it worked. People went along with it, but they didn’t understand the extent of it.”
Preparing for this week, Nails says he is confident that once he vetoes the resolution, which he says he will definitely do, the senate will not overturn his veto.
“It’s a checks and balance system. SGA is not the real government, but we have to make sure that we’re not wasting student funds. The rationale behind it was great – checking the executive branch,” said Nails. “They need to limit the scope of the bill. They can still talk about taking away stipends and privileges and things, that’s fine. If they want to continue on that route, they need to do so correctly. Beyond that, they shouldn’t fast track this kind of legislation. It warrants a full discussion. We’re talking about the effectiveness of the people in charge of the student body. It warrants a full discussion, not the 10-minute discussion that it had. And that’s why we’re vetoing. I don’t think the senators are aware of its many flaws.”
The main flaw, says Nails, is the fact that the legislation is written as a resolution instead of a bill. This difference is important, says Nails, who argues that a resolution is only used to express the opinion of the Student Senate. Belle contests, saying a bill is generally only used when attempting to change SGA’s by-laws.
According to section one of the by-laws of the Student Senate, laid out in the Student Government Statutes, a Senate bill, “amends the By-laws of the Senate or other bodies of law under the discretionary authority of the Senate.” A resolution, according to the same document, is, “All legislation voicing the opinions of the Senate on any topic not within the constitutional jurisdiction of the Senate or exercising one or more privileges of the Senate.”
In layman’s terms, a Senate resolution is an actual law being put forth. It is not necessarily binding, but the Senate can use them to their privilege regarding topics Constitutionally outside of their jurisdiction. The pay and benefits provided to the Executive Cabinet, including stipends and parking passes, is not promised to the Executive Board in the SGA Constitution, therefore it is the Senate’s jurisdiction.
“Having worked in Dave Craven’s cabinet, I think it’s fantastic the Senate finally did something to combat this ‘do nothing president.’ This binding Senate resolution strips him of his privileges to which he is not constitutionally given. I hope he complies, or does his job at least,” said an anonymous member of 2011-12 Student Body President Dave Craven’s Executive Cabinet.
Whether the Student Senate chooses to overrule the veto or not will remain unseen until Thursday, Jan. 30 when the Senate meets again. Belle and Hartsoe are both confident a veto from the student body president will be overruled.
“Even if he vetoes it, it’s already been passed, so there won’t be any questions or debate. Just a vote. The thing is this has already passed. He can gut it all he wants. There is nothing he can do about it now,” said Belle.
“The Senate was strongly in favor of passing it last Thursday. I believe they would overturn his veto, but we will find out,” said Hartsoe.
Nails, however, is confident that his veto will not be overridden by the Senate.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing it again [as a bill]. It’s a discussion. Debate is always a good thing. Conversation is always the best place to start. The Senate, if they feel that there is a problem, needs to address it. It would be irresponsible if they didn’t. Do I think we’ll see it again as a bill? Probably,” said Nails.
Thursday’s Student Senate meeting is open to the public. Any member of the university community who wishes to attend is welcome to. Senate meetings are each Thursday at 5 p.m. in Student Union, Room 200.